Objectives: Many postmenopausal women are reluctant to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and those who do are likely to discontinue within 1 year. Setting aside the beliefs and prejudices of the prescriber, women's own perceptions of risks and benefits may influence their willingness to accept and then persevere with HRT. We conducted a systematic literature review relating women's beliefs about HRT to acceptance and adherence.
Methods: Using standard guidelines for systematic search procedures, we identified 112 papers (published during 1980-2002) from databases such as Medline, PsycINFO and the NHS and Cochrane libraries.
Results: Women hold both positive and negative beliefs about HRT. Their perceptions of benefits are often countered by concerns over potential adverse effects, beliefs that are sometimes at odds with the clinical evidence. The use and discontinuation of HRT are influenced more by short-term symptom relief than by considerations of long-term benefits. Many women who refuse HRT believe that the menopause is a natural event that does not warrant 'chemical' intervention. Doctors and nurses are not used to their full capacity as an education and information resource to counter the possibility of unbalanced stories in the media.
Conclusions: Addressing women's preconceptions about HRT should be an important part of the process of prescribing and review. Such an approach will help ensure that a woman's decision to start or continue HRT is informed by an understanding of the known risks and benefits, rather than by myths or mistaken beliefs about the menopause or HRT.